Rossetti's Beata Beatrix

University of Paderborn

Feminist Linguistic Theory 
and Nineteenth Century
British Women Writers

Prof. Julie Shaffer

Texts, Schedules, Links: Early Women Writers

Rossetti's Beata Beatrix

 Arguments have been made by some contemporary feminist linguists that female uses of language differ from male uses. While some argue that the difference may stem from essential biological differences between the sexes, others suggest that the differences may stem from women's different inscription in culture. In this course, we will look at arguments made by feminist linguistic theorists and other ideological linguistic theorists about these issues and examine three novels by British women from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth century in terms of the questions raised by the theorists.


Deborah Cameron, ed, The Feminist Critique of Language
Robyn Warhol et al, eds, Feminisms
Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory
J.Shaffer, Packet of articles

Frances Burney, Evelina
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South

Week 1: Questions of language and feminism: Introduction


Deborah Cameron, Introduction to The Feminist Critique of Language

Informal Lecture: Introduction to the concerns of the Course:

I will address the difference between linguistics per se and discursive practices, and outline the focus we shall take on each. I will also explain the kinds of literary discursive practices on which much of the course as a whole will focus.


Week 2: Poststructuralist Theories of Language and Subjectivity

On theories of language:

Catherine Belsey, excerpts from Critical Practice (in packet)
Chris Weedon, from ch. 2, pp. 21-35; ch. 4, 74-106


On theories of subjectivity:

Catherine Belsey, "Constructing the Subject, Deconstructing the Text," in Feminisms, 593-609

Informal Lecture and questions.

Weeks 3 and 4: Language and Psychoanalytic Theory:

Introduction to French Feminist theories of Language:

Jacques Lacan, "Signification of the Phallus" (in packet)

Overview on responses:

Weedon, ch. 3, 43-73
Luce Irigaray: "Psychoanalytic Theory: Another Look" (in packet)

Gendering Language, Women's Language:

Hélène Cixous, "Laugh of the Medusa," in Feminisms, 334-349
Luce Irigaray, "Women's Exile," in Cameron, 80-96

Response and Critique:

Kristeva, "Women's Time," in Feminisms, 443-462, and selections in packet
Gilbert and Gubar, "Sexual Linguistics: Gender, Language, Sexuality" (in packet).


Where do these writers locate the origin of different inscription into language, or the difference in kinds of language used? Does it seem to be possible for each sex to use the language of the other?

Week 5 and 6: Women's Literary Practices

Feminist/Ideological Discussions/Critiques of these Practices:

Joanna Russ, "What Can a Heroine Do? or, Why Women Can't Write" (in packet)
Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Introduction to Writing Beyond the Ending (in packet)

Topic #2: Blocking women's writing; circumvented this blocking.

Review of Gilbert and Gubar's "Sexual Linguistics"
Selections from Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (in packet)
Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own, ch. 1, in Feminisms
Mary Poovey, The Proper Woman and the Lady Writer, selections (in packet)
Josephine Donovan, "The Silence is Broken," in Cameron, pp. 41-56
Judith L. Newton, "Power and the Ideology of 'Women's Sphere,"' in Feminisms, 765-780
Gilbert & Gubar, from Madwoman in the Attic (in packet)
Nancy Miller, "Emphasis Added" (in packet)

Week 7: Other discussions of ideological intervention in narrative


Selections from Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination (in packet)
Introduction to Huang Mei, Transforming the Cinderella Dream (in packet)

The rest of the semester will be devoted to discussing three novels
from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth century
in terms of the issues raised by the previous weeks.
In addition, consider the questions/issues I have raised in conjunction with each novel. 


Weeks 8 & 9: Frances Burney's Evelina

One topic to consider while you read: to what extent does the epistolary form of this novel enter into the equation of the ostensible denial to women of the subject position, and of feminist disruption of the marriage plot form? To what extent is Evelina's construction of the subjective self she presents at odds with patriarchal views of women? To what extent does her story of her journey toward marriage suggest she's ready to become relative to her male protagonist, and to what extent does it suggest she may insist on a continued autonomy? What role might be played by the appearance in this novel of the (false) Cinderella motif?

Weeks 10, 11, and 12: Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

Topics to consider: What might the significance be here of the framed narratological situation, the fact that we're at a double remove from Catherine and Heathcliff, the ostensible main characters of the story recounted? What do you make of the fact that everybody seems to have the same name, or that, at any rate, there are only a few names which get repeated among almost all the characters? What might be the significance of the narrative's being split in two, so that there are really two marriage plots here, one dysphoric, the other euphoric, to use Nancy Miller's terms?

Weeks 13, 14, and 15: Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South

Topics to consider: What is the significance of the marriage plot's being complicated here by other kinds of issues -- by economic, political problems? What might the significance be, that is, of the broadening of the world depicted in the novel in terms of how that affects views of "woman" and the kind of story she might have? Does Margaret's conclusion in marriage seem here a drawing back into the kind of subordinate, invisible world that critics of the marriage plot suggest is unavoidable?


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